Dennis Quaid is
Back on the Farm In "At Any Price"
born and bred, Dennis Quaid is a consummate actor whose impressive
acting career has been on-screen since 1977 when he played a baseball
pitcher in "I Never Promised You a Rose Garden." Since
then, he has appeared in over 70 films including "The Right
Stuff," "The Big Easy," "Innerspace," "D.O.A.,"
"Great Balls of Fire!," "Postcards from the Edge,"
"Wyatt Earp," "Switchback," "Any Given Sunday,"
"Traffic," "The Alamo," "The Day After Tomorrow,"
"G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," "Soul Surfer," "Footloose,"
and "The Words."
Dennis Quaid currently starring
in “At Any Price.” Courtesy Photo
Equally at home on the small screen, Quaid
plays a sheriff in the television series "Vegas" and
gave a most memorable performance as President Bill Clinton in
"That Special Relationship." Besides being one of Hollywood's
most outstanding actors, Quaid is also a composer and musician
performing with his band, "Dennis Quaid and the Sharks."
He wrote the songs for three of his movies, "The Night the Lights
Went Out in Georgia," "Tough Enough," and "The
Award-winning director Ramin
Bahrani directs his first film with professional actors.
Director Ramin Bahrani has won a number of
awards for "Chop Shop," "Goodbye Solo," and
"Man Push Cart." His latest film, "At Any Price,"
is the first with a bigger budget and professional actors. Co-written
with Hallie Elizabeth Newton, it explores the world of farming
in the American Midwest touching on advanced technology, which
has made possible the development of genetically modified seeds. He
illuminates through the narrative, the question of moral ambiguity including
exploring to what ends we will go to protect a child. In addition to
Quaid, the film co-stars Zac Efron, Kim Dickens, Heather Graham,
and Maika Monroe.
Quaid and Bahrani recently sat down
with a select group of journalists to discuss the film and other topics
and the following has been edited for content and continuity.
All the characters in the film, with the exception
of the Cadence character played by Maika Monroe, are morally bankrupt
so what attracted you to the script and to the character of Henry Whipple
L-R: Zac Efron as Dean, Dennis Quaid as Henry, and
Kim Dickens as his wife Irene. Photo by Matt Dinerstein,
Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
L-R: Maika Monroe as Cadence with her boyfriend
Dean (Zac Efron) who has just won a car race. Photo by
Matt Dinerstein, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Quaid: Right she's the purest one in the film. My role
is a very meaty role isn't it? He is a very complex character and very
interesting to play. Ramin talked a lot about "Death
of a Salesman" before shooting the film. Henry Whipple,
in a way, is a Willy Loman for our times. He is someone who is
chasing the "American Dream" for himself and his family
and at the same time, corrupting himself in the process.
Dennis Quaid as Henry Whipple, a man who has somehow
lost his moral compass. Photo by Matt Dinerstein, Courtesy
of Sony Pictures Classics
Did you make any moral judgments about his methodology?
Quaid: Well, we tried not to be judgmental. I think
characters judge themselves because we all judge ourselves and are harder
ourselves. I think Henry, at the beginning of the film, is an
unlikable character in many ways. He's like a used car salesman trying
to sell you something and shows his confidence in his exterior but inside
I think there is self-loathing and insecurity going on at the same time
he is trying to hold all this up. He starts to crack as the film goes
Did you research what it's like to be a farmer?
Quaid: My grandfather was a cotton farmer in east Texas
and I spent a summers up in rural east Texas, but it's a much
different world today. I basically parachuted into this movie from another
film I was doing called "The Words," where I was playing
this jaded, cynical novelist. Ramin and I had talked for months
about the role and about the movie and I had done a lot of reading.
We shot on the Kevin Herman farm who was head of the family,
so I did everything I could to absorb what I could. Luckily, Ramin
is a master of the subject.
Are you familiar with the GMO controversy? (Genetically
Quaid: It is something I am familiar with and is something
I know more about now, but we are not out to make a judgment or comment
Bahrani: If it were an agenda movie, I would grab all
of you by the hand and run like hell from the cinema. Nobody wants to
watch an agenda being smashed over his or her head. You just want to
watch a story.
Do you like the labeling of GMO products?
Bahrini: I went to Mel's Drive-In the other day
to eat a hamburger and there's a sign on the table that says "Grass
Fed No GMO Burger," and it had a sign that said, "Corn"
that had a line through it. (laughter) Even in Mel's Drive-In
they give you an option.
Did the script go through any revisions during
Bahrini: Yes, because the actors start seeing things
happening for real. There was not a lot of time to make the film; it
was not a big budget film so I shot the entire movie on a Handycam
with interns. I like to tell the actors what's going on in the scene
and this is the blocking and these are my five camera set-ups.
Quaid: So why did we need to rehearse? (laughter)
Bahrini: (continuing his thought) But, at the
same time, I like to give actors the freedom to change anything they
want because at some point they really know the character. I know the
whole film better than them, but you have to give them the room. We
were shooting a very complex scene where Zac, Dennis, and
Kim Dickens are on the property and these two agents show up in
a car and Zac is going to become physically violent. I looked
at the sun that was low in the horizon and asked the cameraman how much
time did we have before we lose the light and he said an hour and a
half. To shoot a scene like that, you probably need five or six hours
and so I said oh my God and quickly told the actors here's the
blocking, here's the scene, this was the previous scene, remember where
you were emotionally, etc. and let's start shooting. I started running
back to the camera to turn it on and Dennis said, "Excuse
me. I don't think my character would behave this way." I said what
do you think your character should do and he said, "I think I would
do this." I looked at the sun, which had gone even lower (laughter)
and said you know you're right.
A strong message in the film is that there are
no consequences to your behavior. Was that your point of view?
Bahrini: I spent so much time on the farms and I tried
to bring what I was seeing into the move. But, I also live in a world
so I was trying to bring the world into my movie and the world that
I'm living in today says that you do get away with it. The world I'm
living in today says that you can bankrupt the world and be rewarded.
It could be my comment on many things the banking crisis, the housing
crisis, the global economic melt down, and capitalism run amuck.
Henry (Quaid) is pleased that his son just won a
car race. Photo by Hooman Bahrani, Courtesy of Sony Pictures
How does this relate to Dennis' character?
Bahrini: In the film, it's leaving Henry as kind
of a hollowed out man. He's gotten all the things he wanted. He's Number
One. He has a kid. But, he's begging the audience to tell him he's
a happy man. Someone has to convince him that's he's happy.
Quaid: It's a lot about the subject we've been talking
about. What kind of world do we live in today and where do we fit into
it and at what price is it worth it for me to get ahead.
Did you ever know anyone similar to Henry?
Quaid: I've known people a little similar to Henry but
the farmers that I met there were really warm, good-hearted people but
this just happened to be Henry's character.
Zac Efron's Dean has no interest in inheriting the
farm as his only ambition is to be a race car driver. Photo
by Matt Dinerstein, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
As a dad could you relate to any of the struggles
Henry has with his son?
Jack Quaid is an actor following in the footsteps
of his parents Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan. Courtesy
Quaid: My oldest son Jack would be the nearest
in age but we have a much different relationship than Zac's character.
Henry is trying to pass down this farm to him which is the tradition
in farming because there is actually a legacy to give, which is the
land. I got it from my father and he got it from his father but Dean
wants to be racecar driver, not at all like my relationship with Jack.
Jack is an actor. (laughter)
What if one of your kids wanted to be a racecar
driver or another dangerous sport?
Quaid: I would like my kids to follow their bliss. What
are you going to do once they get it in their heads?
Bahrini: We're living in this time period where if a
kid is on a plastic scooter that's one inch off the ground, the mom
and dad thinks he should have a helmet on. I don't think they should
have a helmet on. I think they should break their leg and have an imagination
otherwise we're going to have a nation of accountants. (laughter)
Quaid: Or lawyers (laughter) to sue about the
helmets. (laughter) We didn't have any helmets when I was a kid.
Dennis Quaid and his wife
Kimberly with their twins Thomas Boone and Zoe Grace who almost
an overdose of the blood thinner Heparin.
You and Kimberly made international headlines
when your newborn twins almost died after being given an overdose of
the blood thinner Heparin. How are they and are you still an activist
for preventing health care mistakes in hospitals?
Quaid: They're doing great. They're now five and ready
to start kindergarten. I narrate some films that are used as training
in hospitals for the medical staff.
How are you feeling about your acting career?
Any thoughts of taking fewer jobs?
Quaid: I still have a fire in my belly to do it. I have
more fire in my belly now than I had in my 20s. Also, I feel so lucky
to still be here.
Is it getting more competitive to get roles?
Quaid: I think it's about the same in any business in
this country. There's very stiff competition in the film business but
you go to Main Street and Wal-Mart is coming to town and kicks out all
the mom and pop stores and all the people who owned these stores are
now working for Wal-Mart.
What is the secret to your long, successful career?
Quaid: Perseverance. That's the only thing I can put
it down to. Like I said, fire in the belly to do it.
With all the films you've done in your incredible
career, is there one character that lingered after the shoot?
Quaid: I like to put them down after I'm done. In fact,
I take a ritual bath after each film. (laughter) I really do
where I scrub off and shave off and cut off the character and hopefully
they won't need reshoots. (laughter)
Do you enjoy watching your films?
Quaid: I've become immune to watching myself. I see
a current movie that I've done a couple of times so I can talk about
it because it's usually been a year since you've done that film but
occasionally I'll be channel surfing and I go, hey, there's "Innerspace."
When I watch a movie that I've been in, I usually like to remember what
I was doing at that time and what was going on in my life.
The last time we met was when you were doing press
for "Soul Surfer" and you had just moved back to Texas. Are
you still based there?
Quaid: No, I moved back here because of the series "Vegas."
What are you doing now?
Quaid: I'm taking a rest. It's been eight months non-stop.
I've been doing the series "Vegas" for seven or eight
months and now we are doing a press tour for this, so I'm going to take
some time off.
What's your idea of rest?
Quaid: Get into that position. (indicates horizontal)
(laughter) Hopefully some place warm and romantic.